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History of the Psychoanalytic Movement

By Sigmund Freud

The theory of repression is the main pillar upon which rests the edifice of psychoanalysis. It is really the most essential part of it, and is itself nothing other than the theoretical expression of an experience which can be repeated at pleasure whenever one analyzes a neurotic patient without the aid of hypnosis. One is then confronted with a resistance which opposes the analytic work by causing a failure of memory in order to block it. This resistance had to be covered by the use of hypnosis; hence the history of psychoanalysis proper only starts technically with the rejection of hypnosis. The theoretical value of the fact that this resistance is connected with an amnesia leads unavoidably to that conception of the unconscious psychic activities which is peculiar to psychoanalysis, and distinguishes it markedly from the philosophical speculations about the unconscious. It may, therefore, be said that the psychoanalytic theory endeavors to explain two experiences, which result in a striking and unexpected manner during the attempt to trace back the morbid symptoms of a neurotic to their source in his life-history; viz., the facts of transference and of resistance. Every investigation which recognizes these two facts and makes them the starting points of its work may call itself psychoanalysis, even if it lead to [p. 10] other results than my own. But whoever takes up other sides of the problem and deviates from these two assumptions will hardly escape the charge of interfering with the rights of ownership through attempted imitation, if he insist upon calling himself a psychoanalyst.

I would very energetically oppose any attempt to count the principles of repression and resistance as mere assumptions instead of results of psychoanalysis. Such assumptions of a general psychological and biological nature exist, and it would be quite to the point to deal with them in another place. The principle of repression, however, is an acquisition of the psychoanalytic work, won by legitimate means, as a theoretical extract from very numerous experiences. Just such an acquisition, but of much later days, is the theory of the infantile sexuality, of which no count was taken during the first years of tentative analytic investigation. At first it was only noticed that the effect of actual impressions had to be traced back to the past. However, " the seeker often found more than he bargained for." He was tempted always further back into this past and finally hoped to be permitted to tarry in the period of puberty, the epoch of the traditional awakening of the sexual impulses. His hopes were in vain. The tracks led still further back into childhood and into its earliest years. In the process of this work it became almost fatal for this young science. Under the influence of the traumatic theory of hysteria, following Charcot, one was easily inclined to regard as real and as of etiological importance the accounts of patients who traced back their symptoms to passive sexual occurrences in the first years of childhood, that is to say, speaking plainly, to seductions. When this etiology broke down through its own unlikelihood, and through the contradiction of well-established circumstances, there followed a period of absolute helplessness. The analysis had led by the correct path to such infantile sexual traumas, and yet these were not true. Thus the basis of reality had been lost. At that time I would gladly have let the whole thing slide, as did my respected forerunner Breuer, when he made his unwished-for discovery. Perhaps I persevered only because I had no longer any choice of beginning something else. Finally I reflected that, after [p. 11] all, no one has a right to despair if he has been disappointed only in his expectations. He merely needs to review them. If hysterics refer their symptoms to imaginary traumas, then this new fact signifies that they create such scenes in their phantasies, and hence psychic reality deserves to be given a place next to actual reality. This was soon followed by the conviction that these phantasies serve to hide the autoerotic activities of the early years of childhood, to idealize them and place them on a higher level, and now the whole sexual life of the child made its appearance behind these phantasies.

In this sexual activity of the first years of childhood, the concomitant constitution could finally attain its rights. Disposition and experience here became associated into an inseparable etiological unity, in that the disposition raised certain impressions to inciting and fixed traumas, which otherwise would have remained altogether banal and ineffectual, whilst the experiences evoked factors from the disposition which, without them, would have continued to remain dormant, and, perhaps, undeveloped. The last word in the question of traumatic etiology was later on said by Abraham, when he drew attention to the fact that just the peculiar nature of the child's sexual constitution enables it to provoke sexual experiences of a peculiar kind, that is to say, traumas.

My formulations concerning the sexuality of the child were founded at first almost exclusively on the results of the analyses of adults, which led back into the past. I was lacking in opportunity for direct observation of the child. It was, therefore, an extraordinary triumph when, years later, my discoveries were successfully confirmed for the greater part by direct observation and analyses of children of very early years, a triumph that appeared less and less on reflecting that the discovery was of such a nature that one really ought to be ashamed of having made it. The deeper one penetrated into the observation of the child, the more self-evident this fact seemed, and the more strange, too, became the circumstances that such pains had been taken to overlook it.

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